How can I print Auto­CAD .DWG files?

I some­times get asked: “A cus­tomer sent me some Auto­CAD .DWG files to print but my RIP doesn’t sup­port that for­mat. I can’t afford to run out and buy Auto­CAD. What should I do?”

This is not a lim­i­ta­tion of your RIP.

Wide for­mat RIPs (from Oce, KIP, Xerox, HP, RTI, Ricoh, Rowe, etc.) will not direct­ly han­dle Auto­CAD .DWG files. The rea­son is that .DWG is not a print-ready file, it’s a native file for use with Auto­CAD and oth­er CAD pro­grams.

The RIPs and built-in con­trollers that are part of the print­ers deliv­ered by all the wide for­mat equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers accept and inter­pret print-ready files like PDF, HPGL, HPGL-2, TIFF, and so on. Some sup­port oth­er less com­mon wide for­mat file types, includ­ing Post­Script — often as an option. To be sure which one your print­er han­dles, check your user guide for a list of sup­port­ed for­mats.

There’s no way for these RIPs to inter­pret what needs to be print­ed from .DWG files and they can con­tain ref­er­ences to exter­nal resource files such as fonts and shapes, etc., that aren’t includ­ed in the .DWG file. They can also con­tain mul­ti­ple sheets, 2D and 3D views, mod­els, lay­ers, pen width def­i­n­i­tions, and so on — all of which must be defined by the user to be includ­ed or not when print­ing.

Wide For­mat tech­ni­cal doc­u­ments print process


When a Auto­CAD user wants to print a .DWG file on their wide for­mat print­er, they open that file in Auto­CAD, choose the print­er dri­ver for the tar­get print­er, and then make the appro­pri­ate set­tings. Auto­CAD even lets them pre­view the out­put before com­mit­ting to the actu­al print. Once they’re sat­is­fied with the set­tings, they click “Plot” and the print­er dri­ver uses the set­tings they’ve made to con­vert the .DWG file to a print-ready file which gets sent to the RIP. The most com­mon out­put for­mats from wide for­mat tech­ni­cal doc­u­ment print­er dri­vers is HPGL, HPGL-2, or TIFF — and PDF if they have Adobe Acro­bat installed.

The solu­tions

If a cus­tomer sends you .DWG files you can han­dle them as fol­lows. Each requires con­vert­ing the .DWG source files to a print-ready for­mat. If you have a tech­ni­cal doc­u­ments type of print­er and RIP, then choose to cre­ate HGPL or HPGL2 files. If you have a graph­ic arts type of RIP like Caldera GrandRIP+, Wasatch, Topaz, Onyx, etc. — then most like­ly you’ll want to cre­ate a PDF file.

  1. Use Auto­CAD. Con­vert the .DWG files to a print-ready for­mat using Auto­CAD and the print­er dri­ver for your tar­get print­er. Open the file in Auto­CAD, make the prop­er print set­tings, and then choose to “Print to File” rather than direct­ly to the print­er. This cre­ates a print-ready file in the cho­sen direc­to­ry. You can then send these result­ing print files to your RIP. If you’re work­ing with a typ­i­cal graph­ic arts type of RIP and print­er, then PDF would be your best choice. If you have a tech­ni­cal doc­u­ment wide for­mat printer/RIP, then HPGL or HPGL2 would work just fine.
  2. Use free tools from Auto­CAD. If you don’t have Auto­CAD and you can’t get the print files from the cus­tomer, you can down­load a copy of DWG True­View™ or Auto­CAD 360 from Auto­CAD, they’re both free. You can then open and view Auto­CAD .DWG files with them and both will let you cre­ate print files (PDFs). Down­load here:
  3. Use Adobe Acro­bat Pro. You can also open and con­vert .DWG files to PDF using Adobe Acro­bat Pro, it’s a built-in fea­ture.

You may be able to open and view a .DWG file with the tools just described, but it’s still the customer’s choic­es that count. You might make some set­tings when cre­at­ing the print files that result in print­ed out­put that doesn’t fit the customer’s needs or lik­ings. You’ll get blamed for the poor results and you’ve just wast­ed time and mate­ri­als.

So, even though you may have a copy of Auto­CAD or these oth­er tools — I strong­ly  rec­om­mend that you get the cus­tomer to cre­ate the print files (PDF best choice) and send them to you and not their .DWG source files. The cus­tomer has the best idea of what they want print­ed. Much bet­ter to let them do it!

You may have to show the cus­tomer how to con­vert their .DWG files using Auto­CAD. You might charge them a one-time fee for this “edu­ca­tion” — but it demon­strates to them that you’re there to help them.

Also — I’d sug­gest that you clear­ly state on your com­pa­ny web­site that you do NOT accept .DWG files (or oth­er “native / source” files) but that you can work with them to help them cre­ate the best file for­mats for their print­ing.


  1. Thank you

Speak Your Mind